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Off-reservation casinos a concern at gaming summit

The controversy surrounding off-reservation gaming has been blown out of proportion, a leading gambling law expert said on Tuesday.

I. Nelson Rose, a Whittier Law School professor, was the opening presenter at the Western Governors' Association summit on Indian gaming in Denver, Colorado. He provided an overview of gambling in the U.S., ending with the rise of the $18 billion tribal casino industry.

"Tribal gambling, casino gambling on reservations is truly big business in America," Rose told attendees of the two-day conference.

Despite the incredible growth of Indian gaming from modest bingo halls to some of the world's largest facilities, Rose said critics have little worry when it comes to off-reservation gaming. While there appears to be a lot of reservation "shopping" going on across the country there is little reservation "buying," he said.

"Reservation shopping is not a real threat," Rose insisted.

That view clashed with others at the summit, attended by representatives of 23 tribes, five tribal organizations, nearly a dozen states and countless casino developers and critics of Indian gaming. Colorado Gov Bill Owens (R), the chair of the WGA, raised the issue early on.

"Here in Colorado, we've had a controversial proposal," he said at a press conference. He accused two Oklahoma tribes and their financial backers of circumventing the state by seeking Congressional approval for a casino outside of Denver.

Two tribal representatives also sounded the alarm. Keller George, the president of the United South and Eastern Tribes, and Kurt Luger, the executive director of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association, criticized tribes and non-Indian developers for trying to expand gaming beyond existing reservation boundaries.

"There is no precedent for this type of activity," George said at a panel discussion on the growth of Indian gaming. He said off-reservation casino proposals in a dozen states represent a type of "portable sovereignty" that is dangerous to other tribes and erodes state-tribal relations.

Luger, who testified earlier this month at a Congressional hearing on the subject, said off-reservation casinos pose a threat to tribal self-sufficiency "The original intent of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is jobs," he said, referring to the need to reduce high rates of unemployment and poverty in Indian Country.

Rose acknowledged the growing number of tribes seeking casinos in urban areas and even in other states. But he said it is extremely rare for the federal government to approve such proposals due to local opposition.

"If you do put up barriers, it almost certainly will not happen," he said.

The debate continues this morning when the summit convenes with a panel on land-into-trust process for off-reservation casinos. George Skibine, the acting deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is scheduled to present.

Also on the panel are Luger, South Dakota attorney general Larry Long, who is fighting the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe's land-into-trust request, Steve Hillard, a developer associated with the proposed Cheyenne-Arapaho casino in Colorado, and George Epp, the executive director of the Colorado Sheriffs Association.

Relevant Links:
NIGC Indian Land Determinations -
Land into Trust, National Congress of American Indians -

Western Governors' Association, Gaming Summit -